Newport’s Art college is a beautiful building, even in its dilapidated state and one that’s always fascinated me. When I was much younger, I used to wonder what those bohemian-looking students that came and went were up to in there.
I got my chance to find out when I made a documentary for BBC Radio Wales in which I went into the devastated building which had been locked up and ruined for years.
Painter John Selway, Magnum photographer David Hurn and former student Richard Frame joined me as we picked our way through broken glass and abandoned printing and art equipment. They remembered the stories, characters and brought back to life what was a vibrant and creative powerhouse for artists and musicians.
And the music was everywhere. It seemed nearly every student was in a band and the place drew musicians to Newport, amongst them Van Morrison and a young Joe Strummer. This programme features a recording which Richard Frame kept over the years: the first known recording of Joe Strummer playing and singing. You can hear Richard talking about it and hear some of this historic recording in the second part from about 2 mins 20 onwards.
Apart from the Strummer song, I’ve had to edit out all the commercial music which I used for legal reasons. There was a bit of Clash, some Bowie, Velvet Underground and Roxy Music.
BBC Radio Wales has kindly given me permission to upload the documentary on this blog. You can listen to it in three chunks below.
And while you’re listening you can look at these fantastic photos by Jo Haycock who joined us to photograph what we were doing as well as to document the state the building was in. They capture some of the grandeur even amidst the destruction. They’re historic documents in themselves now because the building is in the process of being renovated and finally given a new lease of life as apartments.
UPDATE: There’s a final chapter to this story here.